Clarissa Helgram visits Lambeth

“This is impressive, Isaac,” Clarissa Helgram said blithely to her grandson. “You have created the most self-indulgent realm I have ever seen, including anything Brand or Bleys ever accomplished.”

Isaac Helgram never hemmed, hawwed or sputtered. Decades of academic and Fiona standards trained that out of him. He simply sipped his coffee with a thoughtful expression, extending the pause to the point of caricature. Meanwhile, the two others at the table maintained bland smiles, aware that the comedy of the moment would only be spoiled if they actually laughed at him.

“I admit I have not maintained as tight controls as some,” Isaac eventually said, “but I did not want to deny Lambeth the benefit of any good ideas brought by others.” As another delaying tactic, he motioned to a passing waiter for more coffee. His cup was still half full.

“Oh please do not take it as an insult. You have not wasted, spoiled or ruined anything. But you have tuned this place to suit you in every way imagineable.’

Clarissa waved a hand to take in their surroundings. They were seated in a fine cafe overlooking the particular piece of scenic coastline threatened by Corwin months prior, a threat repelled partly by Isaac’s attunement with the local climate and partly by support from Geran, Thrawn and Lucius. A small bronze plaque commemorated the event. Isaac wanted to openly thank his kinsmen for the support but hated to be ostentatious.

“This is a lovely home you have here, Isaac, but it is a boutique. Small, with a variety of high-end offerings.”

Clarissa had only briefly been to Isaac’s house, which was itself quite large. The actual living and dining space was small compared to the library or the laboratory space. While Isaac thought it was a fine house, he wanted to let his grandmother explore Lambeth.

The cafe they were in was typical. Competently prepared and served food, the local cuisine taking advantage of the available seafood and grains and imported spices that came on the Antilla train. The serving staff were the native Lambeth population, a somewhat Nordic stock who were good-humored and reliable if incurious, and immigrants from UT, Dealunde and elsewhere who were trying to find an economic foot-hold. The other customers were immigrants who had arrived better equipped to supply goods and services, visiting tourists who came for the scenery, shopping, or a nice way-station between destinations, and businessfolk who decided to see if Lambeth was the banking and commerce haven it had advertised. So far, the advertising campaign had not been seriously contradicted.

With Isaac and Clarissa were two of Isaac’s Ministers. Bunny Watson, a trim and elegant woman who resembled one of the Hepburns, was Minister of Education. Unlike Isaac, her wealth of knowledge was not abstract or theoretical; she acquired and held geographic, demographic, economic and other hard data that she freely shared. “The demand for Lambeth’s crafts industry has increased sharply since the Pavilion. Sweaters are up 30%, fine carpentry up 15%. Banking services are trickier to estimate since local technology doesn’t allow automated tracking of transactions. While that’s cost Lambeth some business, as many potential clients expect high-tech communications and data transfer, we’ve probably gained at least as much by attracting clients who see such technology as a threat to confidentiality.”

“Exactly!” said Isaac, seconding his underling with an assertive emphasis.

The other Minister present was O-Ren Ishii, of Asian extraction. She had worked her way up in organized crime to an executive position before Isaac recruited her as Minister of Justice and Public Safety. Isaac’s reasoning was that she would know what to look for and know what counter-tactics were effective. Isaac’s own understanding of the criminal mind was limited to academic studies in criminology. The real absurdity was that Isaac’s reputation, fueled partly by how he dealt with the confidence tricksters who ran up bills under his name and partly by rumours of where his mind’s eye could reach, was a more effective deterrent to major crimes than the fiercest police force. There was petty vice and smuggling but nothing for Isaac to notice. Especially when the pickpockets and other criminals knew to stay the hell away from him.

O-Ren had been asked along to see to security. Again, a joke. One reason Isaac enjoyed security was wide fear of his mother Fiona. Attacking Clarissa in Lambeth would bring Isaac and Fiona after the culprit.

For the silliness of her job, O-Ren found she liked its freedom. Running her own criminal empire required constant vigilance and response to challenges, failure meaning death or worse. She was at least as comfortable now and had far more leisure.

“The recent conflict in Dealunde has helped us considerably,” Bunny continued. “Many are pulling money out of Ultima Terra, either protesting reported atrocities or concerned with potential reprisals against UT. Those resources have to go somewhere.”

O-Ren laughed inside, while Clarissa smiled cordially. Isaac was visibly nettled to those who knew his tells. Hillary, Matthew’s PM before Isaac poached her, gave Isaac four variations on “I told you so” a day, while Lucius never hid his irritation at Isaac absorbing UT refugees. But Bunny, one part girl scout and two parts file cabinet, missed these things completely.

“The advantage of wide and multifactorial connections between many realms is that we can all stabilize each other, absorbing each other’s excesses,” Isaac pedanted. (Was that the word O-Ren wanted? Pedantificated?)

“That is the theory,” Clarissa replied, “but you know better than I, Isaac, that when individuals conflict with theory, theory usually loses.”

Isaac nodded, not sure where to go with the reply.

“Thank you for a lovely tour and a fine dinner,” his grandmother continued. “And thank you for arranging such fine conversation partners. But I have taken up enough of your time. I think I shall enjoy another slice of cheesecake and Trump my way home. It is a shame your mother could not join us. She’s always been something of an exemplar to you, hasn’t she, Isaac?”

Isaac Helgram, MD D.Psy, agreed without hesitation.

“You’ll never marry,” Clarissa predicted.

O-Ren held her napkin to her face and passed off her laugh as a sneeze.

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